Marriage is a wonderful institution.
It can bring together people of different ages, race, abilities, faith and I have now learnt, language.
I have come to admire, albeit with deep curiosity, couples with such distinctly dissimilar backgrounds that their union, the intimacy without boundaries, is fascinating to me.
My every day job has given me the opportunity to witness some of these wonderful unions.
Take Mr and Mrs Hill, let us call them. Mr. Hill is a large man in his mid fifties. He had lived his whole life within a three mile radius of the village in the North of England where he was born, only going away for short holidays abroad. That was until about three years ago when he married Mrs Hill whom he met on a holiday touring South East Asia.
Mrs Hill is a thirty year old petite Thai lady. She speaks no English.
They have been married for nearly three years and go back to Thailand for a couple of weeks every year.
Mrs. Hill books an appointment to see me. Mr. Hill will be doing the translating. The only problem is, he doesn't speak Thai!
I only discover this after a couple of minutes of non verbal communicative gestures.
He says something like "She's got a pain in her back."
"How long have you had the pain for?" I ask her directly.
She smiles back and turns to her husband.
He says "Pain, pain" pointing to her back. "For how long?" he makes hand gestures.......
"I ask politely if she has hearing difficulties, apologising that I hadn't been aware.
"Oh no, she just doesn't understand English, only Thai"
"Oh ok, do you speak Thai then." I asked, somehow thinking it was a silly question until he responded with "No"
I picked up the phone straight to the telephone interpreter.
They smiled at each other and held hands.....
Love is a beautiful thing. Language is clearly not their "love language".
Well, that was easier than another couple. Ajay and Maria, let us call them.
Maria is the patient. She is very hard of hearing without her hearing aids which are broken. She can read Spanish sign language.
Ajay, her husband does not speak or understand Spanish.....or English.
He only speaks Urdu.
He is here with her today to translate. He tells me that he can sign, a bit.....at least that is what I think he says.
I get an urdu interpreter on the phone.
After they have a short conversation, the interpreter tells me that she has a problem in her abdomen. I ask a few questions which she translates to him.
He then looks at his wife.
He makes some random hand gestures. I can see her clearly signing back.
He shakes his head and starts saying some things slowly in urdu so she can read his lips
She doesn't understand it seems so he makes some more hand gestures.
They burst into laughter, shake their heads and hug each other.
After nearly twenty minutes between myself, the interpreter on the phone and this couple, it becomes obvious that the whole consultation is in shambles.
They will have to arrange a face to face Spanish sign-language interpreter at a later date.
They go away smiling and holding each other as they wheel away their little baby in his pram.
I am exhausted but I learn something. Their intimacy needs no words.
Their marriage is certainly stronger than that of my next patient.....
He is booked in as having a personal problem.
Over the phone (because of Covid), he tells me that he has been having severe heartburn and indigestion since he got married about six months ago and his wife came to live with him from Pakistan.
My mind is wondering how this is a personal problem.
In my imagination, I am picturing him eating too many tasty spicy curries which have probably made him a bit fatter.
I hope he is not having marital stresses already.
Is she starving him of food? Are we dealing with domestic abuse here?
He spares my mind the endless rummaging by volunteering.
"You see, since we got married we are now living together so I am not able to fart, so the air is trapped inside and now I have indigestion. "
(I must admit, there are some advantages to remote consulting. No need for straight face, and you have a mute button. )
I never thought the day would come when my professional input would be.
In love and marriage, there is more to intimacy than language.